PENTICTON — It’s a contract that has everything any 22-year-old — or 52-year-old — could want. Except a no-trade clause. Bo Horvat doesn’t mind.
It says far more about Horvat’s confidence and character than any uncertainty within the Vancouver Canucks that his six-year, US$33-million deal doesn’t come with trade restrictions.
That’s because Horvat isn’t worried about being traded.
There is also no fat signing bonus for Horvat, and no big money up front.
He has earned everything he has received in his first three years in professional hockey, including today’s contract that makes him the 100th highest-paid player (by cap hit) in the National Hockey League.
Horvat plans to maintain this meritocracy and keep on earning his way. And if he doesn’t and the Canucks decide in the next six years to trade him because he is underachieving, that will be more Horvat’s fault than the team’s.
But he believes in himself, is betting on himself. And having already smashed through the low offensive ceiling many people placed on him about the time the Canucks picked him ninth in the 2013 entry draft, it would be unwise for anyone to bet against Horvat now.
Simply put, he is the template for player development on the Canucks, the model to follow for a swelling wave of young prospects who have been brought into the organization for the team’s NHL rebuild.
“I feel pretty confident in this group and myself that I’ll be a big part of this team for a while,” Horvat said after his press conference here, where the Canucks are staging a prospects tournament that includes the Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets. “I’ve been through a lot in my first three years: just getting drafted for Cory Schneider (who was sent to New Jersey in draft-floor trade unpopular with Canucks fans), going through a 27-game goal slump, starting on the fourth line last year.
“I’ve been through a lot already. It was a mental grind. I’m feel I’m ready for this.”
Canucks general manager Jim Benning said: “What you see with Bo is what you get. He has a mature soul beyond his 22 years. Nothing is going to change even though he’s getting paid this money. He’s strong in his principles and beliefs in who he is and what he is. And he’s going to show up with the same work ethic and consistency. He’s going to just keep going.
“Maybe some young players, when you’re talking about this much money, you worry about. But I don’t worry about Bo.”
Horvat’s relatively short journey to riches belies the challenge of the road he travelled.
Drafted by former general manager Mike Gillis, who traded Schneider for the right to select Horvat, the centre from Rodney, Ont., was inherited by Benning with modest projections to become a second- or third-line centre in the NHL.
He made the Canucks as a 19-year-old, but had to earn every minute he played on the fourth line. Horvat’s sophomore season began miserably with a 27-game goal drought and ended with a ghastly minus-30 rating, accompanied by a 45.81 Corsi. Only one of the league’s 898 skaters had a worse plus-minus than Horvat, who, due to Canuck injuries and depth, was simply overmatched many nights against the opposition’s best forwards.
Canucks captain Henrik Sedin, who knows something about leadership, said he was more impressed by Horvat’s second season than his first due to how he handled adversity and failure.
He talked about Horvat’s mental toughness and attitude, and predicted his teammate’s struggle and disappointment as a 20-year-old would make him a better player.
“There were times I wanted to be the guy who could change everything,” Horvat explained back then. “But when you’re this young and you have that big of a weight on your shoulders and you put that much pressure on yourself, it tends to go the other way.”
Horvat responded last year by becoming the best Canuck and eclipsing Henrik and Daniek Sedin in scoring. He crashed through that offensive glass ceiling and posted 20 goals and 52 points, despite rarely getting first-power-play minutes. He actually began the season on former coach Willie Desjardins’s fourth line.
So, yes, there were times Horvat wondered if the Canucks believed in him, at least offensively, as much as he believed in himself.
“I did,” he said today. “(But) I think them signing me to a long-term deal means that they they have a lot of support for me and they believe in me. I’m really humbled by that and, obviously, I respect them for that.
“I think I’m just scratching the surface. I’ve only been in the league three years. These next six years is where I can really step up my game and prove myself.”